I loved Pierre Lacroix and Carl Scheer.
Strange, strong word for a cold, callous columnist to type in bold face about a couple of general managers.
GMs and sportswriters coalesce and coexist like Burr and Hamilton, Kennedy and Khrushchev, Dr. Peter Venkman and Slimer.
General managers believe that sports scribes are incompetent ne’er-do-wells who don’t know if a ball is stuffed or inflated, and they should be banished to Par Naogaon, Bangladesh.
Columnists opine that GM stands for “Godawful Maniac” who draft emus and ostriches in the first two rounds and trade future Hall of Famers for gewgaws and a utility infielder named ThingamaBob.
Chloramine and hydrazine.
Although I chewed on Lacroix and Scheer time and again, and they eschewed me every so often, Carl and I, then Pierre and I, became close friends. I respected and recognized that they were exceptional and even extraordinary, and they tolerated my peculiar observations — and laughed and debated during our conversations over five decades. Lunches and dinners were fascinating, arguments animated.
Scheer was the first general manager in Denver sports history to guide a major-league professional team to a championship series. Lacroix was the first GM in Colorado chronicles to win a professional league title. Then, his team won another.
Scheer saved pro basketball in Denver; Lacroix made pro hockey significant in Denver. Carl took the Nuggets to a new level in the ABA, then to the NBA. Lacroix erased the bad memories of departed WHA and NHL hockey teams here and produced the greatest moments with the second coming of the NHL.
Pierre and Carl were two of the best and the brightest in sports business.
Last December Carl died of dementia complications.
This December Pierre died of coronavirus complications.
They have left skate and sneaker prints along the Front Range.
Hockey and basketball fanatics who have filled the Auditorium Arena, the Denver Coliseum, Big Mac, The Can and The Jar don’t know that Carl and Pierre set the tone, established the success of the Avalanche and Nuggets franchises, sold out the venues and were responsible for bringing superstar players to Denver teams.
How about David Thompson, Bobby Jones and Dan Issel?
What about Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg?
How about Ray Bourque and Rob Blake?
What about Alex English and Fat Lever?
Scheer chose Larry Brown and Doug Moe, who would coach the Nuggets to conference finals.
Lacroix picked Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley, who became coaches of Stanley Cup champions.
Carl, who was Jewish, was born in, appropriately, Springfield, Mass., home of the Basketball Hall of Fame, in December 1936. He died the day before he would turn 83. Pierre, who was French-Canadian, was born in the center of hockey in Montreal in 1948. He died Sunday at 72.
Both began their careers as sports agents. They became general managers and franchise presidents in Denver.
Yet, their paths never intersected. Scheer was with the Nuggets from 1974-84 and again in 1990-91. Lacroix joined the Quebec Nordiques in 1994 and moved with the franchise the next season to Colorado. He stepped away in 2013. The next year Scheer was honored at a Nuggets game.
Scheer was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1992; Lacroix in 2008.
Each belongs in his league’s Hall of Fame. Scheer conceived of the Slam Dunk Contest in 1976 in Denver at the ABA All-Star Game. The event featured David "Skywalker" and Dr. J. He was GM of four franchises.
Lacroix spent his entire NHL career with the Avalanche, setting records for consecutive division titles and consecutive seasons of sellouts.
In 1975, on the day Scheer signed Thompson, the three of us went to a fancy Larimer Square restaurant. When asked what he would like to drink, Thompson replied: “Chocolate milk shake.’’ Scheer sent someone out to buy a shake.
The Nuggets won 60 games that season.
In July 2009 Lacroix and I sat in his office after his recovery from five operations and complications. He took blame for the Avalanche's decline. “I made a mess of it. It was my fault. I will clean it up.’’
The Avs ascended from 69 to 95 points that season.
Pierre and Carl deserve to be loved and remembered.